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Trump’s court nominee hits back after he slams judiciary over immigration policy

Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, judge Neil Gorsuch, has said the president’s criticism of the judiciary is “disheartening and demoralising”.

world Updated: Feb 09, 2017 19:50 IST
US President Donald Trump
File photo of US Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch arriving for a meeting with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and vice president Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington on February 1, 2017. (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump’s criticism of the judiciary prompted a rebuke from his nominee for the Supreme Court, who told a senator the president’s comments were “demoralising and disheartening”.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated by Trump to the nation’s high court last week, made the comments on Wednesday after Trump accused an appellate court considering his immigration and refugee executive order of being “so political”.

Over the weekend, Trump labelled a judge who ruled on his executive order a “so-called judge” and referred to the ruling as “ridiculous”.

Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut first relayed Gorsuch’s remarks on Wednesday, following a meeting with the judge. Trump’s own confirmation team for Gorsuch later confirmed he had made those remarks.

But Trump suggested that Blumenthal had misrepresented Gorsuch, tweeting early on Thursday, “Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie), now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?”

Blumenthal faced criticism in the past for saying he had served in Vietnam. He served in the Marine Corps Reserves during Vietnam. He apologised in 2010, saying he regretted his misstatements.

GOP former senator Kelly Ayotte, who is helping with Gorsuch’s confirmation and was at the meeting, issued a statement saying Gorsuch made clear he was not referring to any specific case. But she said the nominee said he finds any criticism of a judge’s integrity and independence to be “disheartening and demoralising”.

Gorsuch’s comments came at the end of a week of meetings with members of the Senate, which is considering his nomination. His response may have been aimed at drawing a line of separation from the new president, who has been a politically polarising figure among Democrats in a highly charged partisan fight over the court.

Prior to the judge’s meeting with Blumenthal, Trump criticised the court that is deliberating his immigration and refugee executive order, telling a group of police chiefs his immigration order was “done for the security of our nation”.

He quoted from the portion of the immigration law that he said gave him the power to enact the ban, calling it “beautifully written” and saying, “A bad high school student would understand this.”

“Courts seem to be so political and it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what’s right,” he added. “And that has to do with the security of our country, which is so important.”

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing the appeal of Trump’s executive order on immigration, including a temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. In a hearing on Tuesday, judges on the appeals court challenged the administration’s claim that the ban was motivated by terrorism fears, but also questioned an attorney’s argument that it unconstitutionally targeted Muslims.

Since a lower court judge blocked the order last week, Trump has assailed the decision, leading legal experts, Democrats and some Republicans to question whether the president’s remarks might jeopardise the independence of the judiciary.

Others have expressed fears he may be attempting to use political influence to sway the courts.

Blumenthal, a former state attorney general, told reporters on Wednesday he had told Gorsuch that he would need to publicly condemn Trump’s attacks on judicial independence.

“It needs to be a strong condemnation and that kind of public condemnation is important to establish his independence,” Blumenthal said. “Otherwise, the American public will conclude that he is more likely to be a rubber stamp.”

In his speech, Trump sought to link his comments about the court battle over his executive order to the law enforcement community in attendance.

“We have to allow you to do your job,” he said. “And we have to give you the weapons that you need, and this is a weapon that you need and they’re trying to take it away from you.”

Trump has repeatedly said people are “pouring in” since the ban was put on hold and suggested that blocking the order would be dangerous for US citizens. On Wednesday morning he tweeted, “Big increase in traffic into our country from certain areas, while our people are far more vulnerable, as we wait for what should be EASY D!”

The administration has not provided any information to support his claims.